When is a marriage like a knot? And those bumps under the carpet in the living room – could they be whales, like the ones who live under your shipwrecked house?
Karen Paul Holmes is the author of Untying the Knot: Poems, a collection of 49 poems published in 2014 addressing a range of relationships but focused on the crumbling and dissolution of a marriage. These poems speak to deep pain, the emotional anguish that strikes at one’s very being when what one accepted as the given in one’s life becomes the taken-away. The title poem, placed about halfway in the collection, talks of recriminations and the personal guilt that the victim in a failed marriage can experience.
Why do knots form by themselves?
In my blow dryer cord,
cell phone charger,
What Boy Scout crept into the dark
to practice right over left
around and through?
And what of the sheepshank of worry
in my stomach,
muscles tied tense with monkey’s fists,
hair tangled in little nooses?
The twists and hitches in our relationship—
who caused those?
Should I have jumped
through one more hoop
to tighten our ties,
looped my love around up
one more time?
Like a rope,
our marriage failed at the stress of a knot
and frayed at the bitter end.
The questioning becomes anger and self-defense. The anger in these poems emerges almost naturally, fueled by the betrayal of not only a husband but also by a best friend. The poet tries meditation retreats, writing hate letters, self-incrimination (“if only I had…”), even imagining a reality show for saving marriages. But eventually it comes to sitting at a mahogany table, signing papers. The poet doesn’t achieve internal peace, but she does eventually reach a kind of resolution.
Holmes has an MA degree in music history from the University of Michigan but lives in Atlanta, After serving as vice president of marketing communications for ING, the financial services company, she became a freelance writer – and a poet. This is her first collection.
The poems of Untying the Knot are painful in their honesty and candor. The knot indeed unravels, leaving – an untied knot.
Poet Claire Trevien uses a different and arresting image in The Shipwrecked House. The 44 poems included here should be read slowly and closely, or, actually, they have to be. Trevien uses language and words in unusual ways. While some of the scenes seem like a surrealist painting, the reader begins to understand that there’s a sub-text.
In this poem, Trevien writes about what might not be an uncommon occurrence in a shipwrecked house.
Whales lived under our house,
making the hinges rock, splitting cups and cheeks.
Stray socks melted in their comb-mouths
their fins sliced through conversations,
we found bones in our cups of tea.
Most of the time they just wanted to play
bounced against bookshelves, snorted leaks,
three bodies across the room.
No one believed me of course,
the carpet looked too smooth to hide a mammal.
At night, I’d listen to their song
beat through the floorboards
like slashes of headlights.
For days they’d circle the house
take a dive into the cellar, press the doorbell
and run, I’d sometimes forget then trip
over the carcass of one beached
in the gutter.
The poem is so straightforward, so matter-of-fact, about the “problem” of whales roaming around the house that the idea does seem entirely believable. It’s especially so when one begins to consider them metaphorically, those large issues and problems that keep singing through the floorboards, bouncing against bookshelves, and make themselves a nuisance in the hopes they’ll be dealt with.
Trevien, a native of Brittany who lives in the UK, is editor of Sabotage Reviews and co-organizer of Penning Perfumes, a collaboration between poets and perfumers.
Here is Trevien reading “Whales:”
The Shipwrecked House is a fascinating, original collection.
Photo by Pat Horsley, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of the novels Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and Poetry at Work.
Want to brighten your morning coffee?
Subscribe to Every Day Poems and find some beauty in your inbox.
- Poets and Poems: James Sale and “StairWell” - May 23, 2023
- Poets and Poems: Catherine Esposito Prescott and “Accidental Garden” - May 16, 2023
- Yes, Edith Wharton was also a poet - May 9, 2023
Maureen Doallas says
Excellent choice of poems to represent the two poets here. The imagery is wonderful and the metaphors consistent and sustained.
Karen Paul Holmes says
Glenda C. Beall says
Two excellent poems and two insightful poets. Karen Holmes’ honesty about her divorce filled her book with drama, humor and touching emotion. I recommend it to anyone who has suffered loss or who enjoys good poetry.
Karen Paul Holmes says
thank you, Glenda!